Replacing the Affordable Care Act; How to NOT Resolve Disputes

Michael Zeytoonian Dispute Resolution Resources, Perspectives, Primary Dispute Resolution (PDR)

President Trump and his team gave us a quick course on how not to resolve a dispute in their efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare).  Their effort and its shortcomings help to show the importance of four key ingredients to approaching dispute resolution to get a good result.

Most Americans agree that the ACA has shortcomings and things that need to be improved upon, and that it also has some good features.  It is helping lots of people who weren’t being helped before it.  Being a non-partisan American citizen, I neither bang the “replace Obamacare” drum, nor do I support the partisan view of supporting or opposing the replacement bill based on which party introduces it, because both positions are extremes and solutions are in finding the middle ground of fixing what needs to be improved.

Here are Four Things We Can Re-learn from the Trump Team’s Approach

We can re-learn not only from the team’s approach but  its shortcomings and hopefully, they might apply these and give it another try.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare 

Health care is an important concern for all Americans (except Congressmen, who get it for free).  It is a major issue that requires clear, careful planning and thinking before any initiative is rolled out.  That takes time, work and input from all sides and from many different perspectives.  This is not something you slap together like a strip mall in South Florida and present it for a vote within a matter of weeks.  Great coaches, trial lawyers, teachers, builders, successful business people, anyone who ever made something great will always include preparation as a key to success.

Mr. Trump’s team was not well prepared.  They didn’t do the advance work necessary to succeed, didn’t lay the right groundwork and didn’t gather a cross section of support.  Their efforts were doomed from the start.  This wasn’t something that was going to happen on the loudness of someone’s talking or strength of one’s will.

Find Shared Interests, Build Common Ground and Work to Build a Consensus

Something this important, this complicated and this controversial is not going to get passed by ramming it through.  Sabre rattling and threatening people by telling them if they don’t vote for it, there will be a bloodbath in the next congressional election won’t get you far.  Mr. Trump needed to enlist those who opposed it to collaborate on the re-design so they could then support it.  There were plenty of shared interests to build upon that were not tapped.  The worst way to try to win people over to your point of view is to ignore them and just tell them they are wrong, stupid, terrible, etc.

It also doesn’t help to start by insulting the people you need to win over.  If you want the support of people who voted for and in some cases helped design and present the ACA, don’t lead with the statement that “Obamacare is a terrible disaster,” or something along those lines.  You can respectfully point out the flaws in something and talk about how to improve upon it without insulting the people who designed it and voted for it, especially when this effort need to be a bi-partisan effort.

Don’t Present an Ultimatum

When you present something to someone and say to them: “You either vote for it as it is or you’re stuck with what you’ve got”, you take away key motivators right out of the gate.  It’s like saying “Either accept our demand or we will take you to court.”  For those you are trying to persuade, “what you’ve got” is not all that bad.  After all, they put the ACA there.  Further, when you take away the opportunity to be heard and give input and offer no options, they are not likely to embrace the ultimatum you give them.  “Take it or leave it” rarely carries the day in any endeavor, largely because it doesn’t allow people to buy into something.

Have Perseverance

Mr. Trump’s post-defeat strategy was like that of a five-year-old boy down at the park who doesn’t get his way so he takes his ball and goes home.  This part would have been the most laughable piece if it wasn’t so troubling.  A President led the charge and then showed no perseverance and no spirit of seeing this through and staying the course.  Replacing Obamacare was one of Mr. Trump’s key positions and ideas; one of his campaign pledges.  And yet, on something so important, something that people arguably voted for him to do, after not getting enough support he just walked away.  As if to say “It’s no big deal; we’ll just move on to the budget issue.”  Quitting after less than two months of work?  He gave up on it without a Plan B, without continuing the fight or working to persuade others, or going back to the drawing board.

Remember candidate Trump labeling his opponents with names that stuck in voters’ minds?  Little Marco, Lyin’ Ted, No Energy Jeb, Crooked Hillary.  If candidate Trump was debating against President Trump after this health care fiasco, what labels would he have given himself?  No Commitment Don, No Backbone Donnie, The Quitter Donald?  This was a key piece of the Trump agenda, and one of the most important issues in American society.   Yet even with a majority, it never even came to a vote, let alone win.  Instead of staying with it, tweaking it and seeing it through, Quitter Donnie abandoned it and moved on to the next thing, like a spoiled kid that has already gotten tired of one toy and has moved on to the dozens of others he has.

Want to succeed in resolving disputes?  Prepare thoroughly.  Find shared interests and common ground and build consensus on them.  Respectfully disagree, while you actively enlist, engage, empower and collaborate with your opponent.  If one thing doesn’t work, try something else.  And never, ever, ever give up.